The Arts Desk
Watermill Jazz, 8 October 2015
Mature, entrancing collection of new songs from increasingly assured transatlantic partnership
Fashions in art and music come and go in less time than it takes to read a Buzzfeed list. So there was something uncannily satisfying about star pianist Alan Broadbent’s admission that he’s been working on last night’s collection of entirely new songs for the past 50 years. He and Georgia Mancio showed last night at the Watermill – a popular, ambitious club whose extensive programme belies its suburban location at the social club of insurance firm Aviva – how with the highest standards of skill and craft it’s possible to create something completely new within a respected musical tradition.
Having established themselves separately at the peak of jazz singing and composing and playing respectively, Georgia Mancio and Alan Broadbent (pictured below) began working on their transatlantic partnership two years ago. They demonstrated at the 2013 London Jazz Festival that their musicianship was perfectly matched – both have a finely worked and effortlessly expressive emotional precision – and have just recorded their collection of new songs, to be released next year.
The jazz song demands nuance, subtlety and fine modulation of tone. Vocally, Mancio was in excellent form: hers is not the sort of instrument to make the furniture rattle, but her ability to vary her expressive weight and steer her tone between extremes of feeling without ever becoming harsh was exquisite. Broadbent makes everything look and sound too easy, but his skill at both creating and performing complex harmonic shifts to convey delicate changes of mood was sublime. He decorates Mancio’s vocal lines very tenderly, too.
Mancio has written occasional lyrics before, but never a whole collection, and it’s a sign of success that their newness isn’t obtrusive. Poignant, observational vignettes, slickly but never garishly phrased and rhymed (as followers of jazz song will know, a difficult balancing act), drew on the compromised mutability of middle age, a category that encompasses all of last night’s performers, as Mancio graciously conceded. “The Cherry Tree”, a melancholy exploration of a couple’s life together over decades, drew Mancio’s most soulfully smouldering tone, and Broadbent’s most anguished chords.
The quartet format, with drummer Dave Ohm and bassist Oli Hayhurst, offered delicate support to the velvety wistfulness of the vocal lines. Between Broadbent’s harmonic power and Ohm’s skill with the sticks, there wasn’t always a huge amount for Hayhurst to do, though both took well-judged solos on the opening song, “What Might Have Been”, and on the most extrovert, “One For Bud”, an energetic be-bop parody dedicated to Bud Powell, that gave Ohm the chance to drop the brushes (used with refinement for most of the gig) and give it some welly, and Hayhurst an opportunity for a stomp, rather than a tip-toe, through the arpeggios.
This is music that builds a tradition up rather than tearing it down, and for an audience that enjoys craft, delicacy, and sublime musical skill, it was entrancing. The original jazz songbook standards are often glorious in themselves, but have been so frequently wrung dry that new renditions tread a dangerous line between the stale and distorting. Broadbent’s concluding remarks focused on the need to be “true to what you want to express, not go with the flow”. A new songbook, beautifully delivered: that’s surely worth waiting 50 years for.